There have been many political slogans over the years, but few have proved more potent than ‘take back control’. In a globalised world, with power increasingly siphoned away from ordinary people, the slogan perfectly tapped into desires for a rethink. Nowhere so was this more pertinent than with the British people’s wish to end free movement from the EU.
The reasons for dissatisfaction with this policy were multifold. By allowing anyone in from Europe, regardless of skills or qualifications, people felt their communities change without any clear benefit. Worse, due to the tendency of many EU workers to work for the lowest possible pay, particularly from Eastern Europe, there was a realisation that the wages of British workers were being undercut.
The sense of unfairness, too, manifested itself in other ways. For example, free movement meant immediate and open access for EU migrants to the UK’s welfare system, undermining the underlying principle of the welfare state that one should first contribute in before taking out.
The easy access free movement provided also meant many migrants failed to put down proper roots, staying only for a few years, and sending most of their money back home to their families abroad when they were here: the very structure of the system was fundamentally not conducive to integration.
Now this would all have been one thing to tolerate if the people had voted for this, but free movement left the UK government completely impotent to stop this – even violent offenders could not be deported easily.
In hindsight, with so much change having occurred to people’s communities without their consent, it makes perfect sense that they voted to take back control. Fortunately, as a result, the potential to start afresh and build a new, fairer immigration system post-Brexit is vast.
For starters, as seems to be the UK government’s present plan, we should standardise our immigration criteria for all nations. Under free movement, controls on non-EU immigration have been overly strict (due to being the only lever under full UK control). Applying the same rules for all would mean the Government could base its decisions purely on quality, for example prioritising Indian scientists over Romanian car-wash workers. Such a system would also be fairer on an individual level.
Post-Brexit the UK will also have greater control of the numbers of immigrants that come in – polling has long-shown that the British people have simply found the rate of change too fast, with schools, hospitals and infrastructure not expanding quickly enough to cope.
Now, admittedly it is certainly possible the public could change their mind to support higher levels of immigration in the future. This highlights the main point, which is that in truth, the question of whether levels are high or low is somewhat immaterial. The real benefit is that post Brexit, the British people will decide.
Additionally, because of this, by returning control to the people, it seems probable some of the resentment that occurs towards immigrants could dissipate – it’s unlikely there would be the same sense of them being there illegitimately. And that would both be good news for immigrants personally and for their odds of integrating properly.
As an immigrant myself (having chosen to make Britain my home over twenty years ago), with these changes, the future of our immigration system seems bright: more control, greater fairness and further integration can only be a good thing.